The Royal Canadian Air Force flies a large inventory of aircraft, many of which are new or completely modernized. These range from huge transport aircraft to helicopters to fighters to patrol aircraft and more. They are used to carry out a multitude of roles at home and abroad, in peace and in conflict, all in support of the RCAF’s mission of providing relevant, responsive and effective air power to meet the defence challenges of today and into the future.
Fighter aircraft are designed primarily to ensure control of essential airspace and deny opponents the use of that airspace. They are fast, light, manoeuverable fixed-wing aircraft capable of flying for long distances, deploying rapidly, reacting quickly, identifying targets and taking action, if required, against an air, sea or ground target. The alpha-numerical designation for fighter aircraft is CF.
Search and rescue (SAR) aircraft are used to support the national SAR objective which "is to prevent loss of life and injury through search and rescue alerting, responding and aiding activities” (National Search and Rescue Manual, 1998). They may be fixed-wing or rotary wing aircraft and some of the aircraft used in SAR roles, such as the Griffon helicopter and H-model Hercules, may also be configured for use in other roles. As well, any RCAF aircraft may be used to support the SAR mission, if available and appropriate.
Transport aircraft (also known as cargo or air mobility aircraft), are fixed-wing aircraft that provide airlift for the Canadian Armed Forces. This involves the transport and delivery by air of personnel and materiel to help fulfill strategic, operational or tactical objectives. Some transport aircraft are configured to carry out other roles. The alpha-numerical designation for cargo aircraft begins with CC.
The RCAF’s tactical aviation aircraft provide support to the Canadian Army by providing mobility, reconnaissance and aerial firepower services. The RCAF’s tactical aviation squadrons are co-located with Army units across Canada. Two helicopter (rotary wing) fleets – Chinooks and Griffons – provide these services. Of note, some Griffons are used in the search and rescue (SAR) role, and are painted in SAR’s red and yellow colours rather than the green and black of tactical aviation. The alpha-numerical designation for helicopters begins with CH.
Virtually any aircraft can be used to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance or to gather intelligence. However, the primary aircraft used in this role within the Canadian Armed Forces are the Sea King (to be replaced by the Cyclone) maritime helicopter and the Aurora long range patrol aircraft. The primary role of these aircraft is to “sense”, which is the function that provides a commander with knowledge to assist in the decision-making process both in combat and non-combat situations. The alpha-numerical designation for the Aurora, “CP”, refers to “patrol”.
Trainer aircraft are used to train novice aircrew in their roles of operating various types of aircraft, including fighters, helicopters and multi-engine aircraft. Several of the training aircraft used by the Canadian Armed Forces actually belong to companies that are contracted to provide training. The Tutor aircraft, which is primarily used by the Snowbirds aerobatic team, is categorized as a trainer because it was the Canadian Armed Forces’ primary jet trainer until the year 2000. The alpha-numerical designation for trainers begins with CT.